Albert Einstein rowing on Lower Saranac Lake. Jacob Billikopf is in the stern and actress Luise Rainer is in the bow, c. 1937. Courtesy of David Marshall Billikopf. Albert Einstein with his wife (seated) vacationing at Lake Clear. Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 19, 1989 Einstein Display by Amy Catania and Mary Hotaling, Shown at History Day 2008. The boy, once thought to be the young Don Duso, is apparently another youth (photo circa 1941). Click on the image to enlarge the display.
Born: March 14, 1879
Died: April 18, 1955
Married: Mileva Marić (divorced); Elsa Löwenthal
Children: Lieserl, Hans Albert Einstein (with Mileva Marić)
German-born physicist Albert Einstein is primarily known for the special theory of relativity (1905) and the equation E = mc2, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, and for the General theory of relativity (1915). His contributions in theoretical physics contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.
In Saranac Lake he is noted as having been one of our more famous summer visitors. Einstein first came to Saranac Lake the summers of 1936 and 1937, renting architect William Distin’s house at the Glenwood Estates. He returned to Saranac Lake through the forties, spending several summers at Knollwood Club on Lower Saranac Lake, where he rented cabin six, next to the Marshalls.
Sightings on the Lake
Sightings of Einstein on the Lake were a frequent occurrence. Reporter Richard Lewis wrote, “Natives of the Saranac Lake area declare that Prof. Einstein is an expert sailboater, but expressed apprehension for him while he is on the lake, for neither he nor his sister, it was said, know how to swim.” 1
Sailing like music, was with Einstein not so much a hobby as an extension of himself in which the essentials of his character and temperament were revealed. Thus it was inevitable that he should politely return an outboard motor which had been presented him...A motor of any sort was a mechanical barrier. 2 "The natural counterplay of wind and water delighted him most," said (Gustave) Bucky, who often sailed with him. "Speed, records, and above all competition were against his nature. He had a childlike delight when there was a calm and the boat came to a standstill , or when the boat ran aground."
He carried his passion for bare essentials to the point of refusing to have life jackets or belts on board—even though he never learned to swim...He never studied navigation and never looked at a compass when in the boat.
"I like sailing," he said, "because it is the sport that demands the least energy." 3
Two other traits were revealed to friends who sailed with him. One was his indifference to danger or death, reflected in such fearlessness of rough weather that more than once he had to be towed in after his mast had been blown down. Another was his perverse delight in doing the unexpected. "Once when out sailing with him," writes (Leon) Watters, "...I suddenly cried out 'Atchung' for we were almost upon another boat. He veered away with excellent control and when I remarked what a close call we had, he started to laugh and sailed directly toward one boat after another, much to my horror; but he always veered off in time, and then laughed like a naughty boy." 4
Saved by a Local Hero
The summer of 1941, Einstein’s boat capsized and local hero Don Duso came to the famous scientist’s rescue. Ten year old Duso was out in a small motor boat when he saw Einstein’s boat capsize. By the time the youngster got there, the scientist was under the water, with his foot caught in the boat’s rigging. Said Duso, "He was down for the count. If I had not been nearby, he probably would have drowned." 5
In Saranac Lake When the Bomb Dropped
Although famous world-wide for his pacifist views, Einstein wrote a letter in 1939 to President Roosevelt, warning that Nazi Germany could be developing an atomic bomb, and that the U.S. would be wise to get there first.
Einstein was in Saranac Lake the summer of 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; he was in the kitchen at Knollwood's Cabin Six when he heard the news on the radio. Albany Times Union reporter Richard Lewis, who interviewed him at Knollwood, quoted him saying “In developing atomic or nuclear energy, science did not draw upon supernatural strength, but merely imitated the reaction of the sun’s rays. Atomic power is no more unnatural than when I sail my boat on Saranac Lake.” 6
Einstein later said he regretted the 1939 letter. He argued against U.S. development of a nuclear arsenal, and instead advocated that the United Nations control the world’s nuclear weapons for deterrence. 7
A Mysterious Russian Visitor
In 1998, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise revisited Albert Einstein’s history in Saranac Lake, recounting one local resident’s memories of a mysterious Russian friend who visited Einstein. The woman matched the description of Margarita Konenkova, the Russian spy who is now known to have had a romantic liason with Einstein. 8
- 1Gardinier, Bob “Einstein in Saranac Lake,” TimesUnion.com, December 18, 2006.
- 2Einstein never learned how to drive because it was too complicated and he could barely use a typewriter.
- 3Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: Avon Books, 1971, 1984, p. 634.
- 4ibid. p.635
- 5Fairbanks, Sandi “All Points North", www.apnmag.com/summer_2008/fairbanks_einstein.php, 2008.
- 6Gardinier, Bob “Einstein in Saranac Lake,” timesunion.com, 12/18/2006
- 7http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Atomic_bomb quoting sources: Scientist Tells of Einstein's A-bomb Regrets. The Philadelphia Bulletin, 13 May 1955. (PDF document from the Swiss Federal Archives from Internet Archive.) and Einstein, Albert (11 1947). "Atomic War or Peace". Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
- 8Adirondack Daily Enterprise, June 19, 1998. Pogrebin, Robin, “Love Letters by Einstein at Auction,” June 1, 1998. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E07EFD9163BF932A35755C0A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1